Saturday, September 10, 2011

Yet More on the Great Schism

A Celebration of the Eucharist in an Orthodox
Church "We did not know if we were in heaven or
still on earth."
Sorry about the hiatus.  We have been without internet for several days and then I was involved in doing some moving which is always a strain on time and energy.  But things have settled down a bit and I would like to get back to the matter of the schism that has divided the Orthodox Churches of the East from the Catholic Church of the West.  I mentioned in the previous blog that the first thing we Catholics have got to get over is the idea that the Greek Church was in some way or other at one time “under” the Pope.  It never has nor had been.  The Churches of Rome and of Constantinople, and the various local Churches of their respective patriarchates, had been in communion with one another since apostolic times.  That communion was fractured in the ninth century when Pope Nicholas I, as senior patriarch of the Church, had excommunicated the Byzantine Emperor Michael III for having deposed the Patriarch Ignatios and replaced him with Photius but the Pope was acting as senior patriarch protecting the rights and authority of a brother patriarch, Igantios.  Ignatios, as a matter of fact, was restored and when, after the death of Ignatios,  Photios was elected in his own right to the Patriarchal Throne there was no breach of communion with the Churches of the West.  In fact, according to some historians, Photios’ son succeeded to the Papal Throne as Theodore II, one of the few good popes of the late ninth  century.  (He had a very short reign, only twenty days, in 897.  His death may be a witness to just how good a pope he was in a time when a fair number of evil men coveted the Throne of Peter and achieved it by very unscrupulous means.)  This time, however, the schism would be of greater and more serious duration.  
     Part of the problem is that the Byzantine Empire was in the early stages of what would be a fatal decline.  Actually, by the time of the schism o f 1054 the decline was pretty advanced, though it could—and would—get far worse.  For over four centuries the Empire had been being whittled away by first the Arabs and then the Turks.  Jerusalem, Damascus, Antioch had all fallen to the Caliphate.  Most of Asia Minor—modern day Turkey—was no longer under imperial control.  It would be another four centuries before the Empire fell completely but the effects of its diminution were already being felt.  Long-term fatal illnesses in empires, like humans, often lead to denial.  The smaller and weaker the Empire became, the more pretentious and even arrogant its claims to sovereignty.   And while it was shrinking, it remembered that while its dominion may be shaky, Rome was not little more than a clump of ruined temples and theatres in a malaria-ridden cattle field.  It was time for “old Rome” to give up its pretensions to Patriarchal Seniority and allow “new Rome” (Constantinople) its rightful dominance in matters ecclesiastical as well as civil. 
     “Old Rome” was not about to do any such thing.  Granted, the Vatican Basilica was already falling down around their ears and cows wandered grazing around those churches standing among the ruins of Caesar and Marcus Aurelius’ capital, but like a delusional old dowager whose once-expensive dresses were now patched and who no longer could afford the luxury of the beauty parlor, but who claimed yet to be the grand dame of the town’s first family,  the Popes of Rome in the squalor of the Lateran reminded anyone who would listen that they were the successors of Saint Peter to the plenitudo potestatis.  Conflict was inevitable where claims of ego were the agenda of the hour. 
     The conflict had been building over time, but the immediate conflagration was ignited when the Patriarch, Michael Caerularius wrote to the Bishop of Trani, an Italian See that had connections both to Rome and to Constantinople.  The Patriarch accused the papacy of introducing “judaizing” practices into Christianity, most notably the use of unleavened bread into the Eucharist.  (The practice in the Church, both East and West, had long been to use leavened bread for the Eucharistic celebration, but in the tenth and eleventh century the West gradually began using unleavened bread—as would have been used by Christ at the Last Supper.  The concern for the form of the bread itself corresponds to an increasing appreciation of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist that began as a result of the Eucharistic controversies in the Abbey of Corbie in the ninth century.  But note, there was no continuing tradition from the Last Supper of using unleavened bread.  Leavened bread had become the norm and then the West began introducing unleavened bread.) 
     There were other issues as well—the West had made an unilateral change in the Creed of the Councils of Nicea and Constantinople, proclaiming that the Holy Spirit “proceeded” from the Father and the Son whereas the Conciliar formula said only that the Spirit proceeded from the Father.  This is a very difficult theological point to explain, but suffice it to say that the issue was that the West had altered a formula of faith and altering a formula of faith challenges the orthodoxy of the doctrine.  This in fact is a far more significant problem than leavened/unleavened bread. 
     A third issue was that the West was beginning to impose celibacy on the clergy while in the East married men were allowed to become deacons and priests (though not bishops, at least until they were widowed).
     The Pope, Leo IX, resented the Patriarch’s sending a letter of complaint to a Bishop in the West and the Patriarch’s request that the letter be forwarded to the other bishops of the Western Church.  Leo saw this as an attack on his authority over his own patriarchate and he sent a delegation to Constantinople demanding an acknowledgement by the Patriarch of Papal Supremacy.  This would have been an innovation—the Pope may have been first but he was first among equals.  The Patriarch was not going to give in on that point.  The head of the legation, the Cardinal Bishop of Silva Candida, Humbert, marched into the Hagia Sophia during a Patriarchal Liturgy and, in the name of Leo IX, laid a bull of excommunication on the altar.  The Patriarch then in turn excommunicated the Legate.  The Patriarchal Sees of Rome and Constantinople were no longer in communion with one another, nor were the various Churches comprising their patriarchates.   As far as I can ascertain from my sources, the Patriarch’s pronouncement of excommunication was directed only towards the Legates and not towards either the Pope nor the Western Church.  As for the Bull that Humbert laid on the altar—it was not valid for it was issued in the name of Leo IX and Leo was, unknown yet in Constantinople, dead.   Well, more on this in the next entry.  But the chief point we need to pay attention to is that the schism of East and West is not a rebellion against Papal Authority for the Pope never did have authority over the Eastern Churches.  It was a break of communion as the unity of the Church was shattered as Churches equal in dignity and authority set themselves on different courses. 

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